Q & A with the Right Honourable Paul Martin, founder of the Capital for Aboriginal Prosperity and Entrepreneurship Fund

24 November 2015
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The Right Honourable Paul Martin is the founder of the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative (MAEI), which focusses on elementary and secondary education for Aboriginal students, and the Capital for Aboriginal Prosperity and Entrepreneurship (CAPE) Fund, an investment fund investing in Aboriginal business.

In partnership with recognized Aboriginal educators, MAEI developed a nationally accredited program called the Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program (AYEP). AYEP teaches Aboriginal youth about business and entrepreneurship, in order to help prepare them to engage in business activity with competence and confidence. By receiving Grade 11 and Grade 12 AYEP secondary school credits, the program moves students closer to high school completion and the opportunity to go on to post-secondary studies.

The CAPE Fund is a $50 million private-sector investment fund initiated by 21 of Canada’s leading companies, individuals, and US-based foundations. CAPE’s management team focuses on mid-market opportunities with a strong degree of Aboriginal involvement and connection to Aboriginal communities throughout Canada. Through these partnerships, CAPE has demonstrated that entrepreneurship and mentorship can make a difference in the lives of this and future generations of Aboriginal Canadians.

Startup Canada chatted with Mr. Martin by phone.

Startup Canada: Why did you start the CAPE Fund?

Right Honourable Paul Martin: Investment capital is the lifeblood of entrepreneurship but all too often, it can lead to the entrepreneur losing control of their venture. We felt an investment fund that insured the Aboriginal entrepreneur ultimately had control of their idea and their venture was crucial if we were to build up a strong class of Aboriginal entrepreneurs in the country.

Startup Canada: You’ve said in the past: “Entrepreneurship and the role models it creates make a difference in the lives of this and future generations of Aboriginal Canadians.” Why is entrepreneurship particularly important to the Aboriginal community?

Right Honourable Paul Martin: Entrepreneurship is part-and-parcel of the Aboriginal DNA. The first industry in this country after European contact was the fur trade. The fur trade was built by First Nations and Métis entrepreneurs. There is a huge number of Aboriginal entrepreneurs in Canada today; it’s just not big enough. We wanted to do whatever we could do to encourage it.

Startup Canada: How can we empower all Canadians through entrepreneurship?

Right Honourable Paul Martin: Entrepreneurship is by definition empowering. The empowering benefits of entrepreneurship are something that would make a huge difference in the future of Aboriginal communities right across the country.

Startup Canada:: Do we need to do a better job of connecting individuals with the skills and entrepreneurial competencies to grow businesses?

Right Honourable Paul Martin: There is no doubt the development of skills and education is absolutely crucial. In fact, that’s why MAIE, the Martin Aboriginal Education Initiative, has two wings. One is CAPE, but the second one is our education initiative, which recognizes the huge need to increase the number of young Aboriginal Canadians graduating high school, the number of young Aboriginal Canadians going on to university and the number of young Aboriginal Canadians going into trades and apprenticeships. That fact is, education and entrepreneurship go hand-in-hand. The first course we set up in our education initiative was a Youth Entrepreneurship Program. Teaching youth about entrepreneurship in high school as a part of their overall capacity to understand the economy is a major step forward.

Startup Canada: Entrepreneurs are architects of a better tomorrow. What is your vision for a future built by entrepreneurs?

Right Honourable Paul Martin: Right now the global economy is going through the biggest changes since the invention of the assembly line in the 1890’s. This change is very heavily weighted towards innovation. Innovation and entrepreneurship go hand-in-hand. Entrepreneurs are by definition innovators. The countries that lead in innovation, the countries that lead in entrepreneurship, the countries that essentially understand the degree to which change is affecting the economy are the countries that are going to benefit, that are going to grow the best. 

Startup Canada: What else do we need to do to get to a point where Canada is one of the most entrepreneurial and innovative nations?

Right Honourable Paul Martin: Providing capital is crucial, which is why we created CAPE. What you really need is a financial system that is receptive to new ideas.

Startup Canada: Lastly, what advice do you have to entrepreneurs and citizens who want to make a social or cultural difference in Canada?

Right Honourable Paul Martin: Be prepared to work like heck.